Courts & Crime

Penn State sex crime cases are familiar territory for Sandusky's lawyer

State College attorney Joseph Amendola has a reputation as a skilled attorney who has handled a number of high-profile cases, including several that drew national attention because of the defendants’ ties to Penn State and its football program.

But the spotlight has never been as bright as it is now, as he defends former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, accused in a sex abuse scandal that has cost President Graham Spanier and coach Joe Paterno their jobs.

On Tuesday, that scrutiny led to headlines revealing that Amendola’s wife was just 17 when she gave birth to their oldest child in 1997.

Mary C. Iavasile was 16 when Amendola represented her as she filed a petition for emancipation from her parents. Friends of Amendola, 63, said he first met Iavasile when she served in a traineeship in his office to learn more about the law.

She and Amendola had a second child in 2002, and married on Feb. 8, 2003.

Neither of the Amendolas, who are now separated, could be reached for comment on Tuesday. Iavasile’s mother, Janet Iavasile, said she had received legal advice not to comment.

Friends and colleagues said they know Amendola as a highly regarded attorney and an active member of the State College community.

“He’s an excellent trial attorney and he’s had that reputation here for a long time,” said Centre County attorney Ed Blanarik. “He’s handled several major cases in the 29 years I’ve been here.”

Amendola’s roots in Centre County date back to his days at a student at Penn State. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1970 and settled locally soon after.

His clients have included a number of Penn State students, including some members of the football team.

In 2006, Amendola defended defensive end Scott Paxson against charges of aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault stemming from allegations by a fellow student that he had unwanted sexual contact with her in December 2004 in his campus apartment. Paxson eventually agreed to a plea deal in which he paid a $300 fine for disorderly conduct.

Amendola also served on the defense team for Austin Scott, a running back charged in 2007 with raping and beating a woman inside his campus apartment on Oct. 5 of that year. The case against Scott was dropped on the eve of his trial in April 2008.

Amendola has defended other former Penn State football players in a handful of other cases involving smaller charges.

The Sandusky case won’t be Amendola’s first time defending a client from allegations of child sexual abuse. Christopher G. Lee, a Harris Township supervisor and Boal Mansion CEO, was represented by Amendola after he was charged with three counts of indecent assault on 8-and 10- year-old boys. Lee entered an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program in which he did not enter either a guilty or not-guilty plea.

Among other local high-profile cases Amendola handled was the defense of Anthony Torsell, who is serving a five-year sentence for killing one pedestrian and permanently injuring another while driving drunk and speeding through downtown State College. He also fought DUI charges against former Richard Mextorf, the former State College Area School District superintendent in 2010.

And he made headlines when his office added local newspapers to a list of government agencies being ordered by a county judge to expunge the records of clients who had successfully completed a probationary program. The judges who signed the orders, overlooking the addition of newspapers to the list, later rescinded the orders, saying they violated the First Amendment.

Dave Immel, who served as Centre County prothonotary and clerk of courts for 16 years ending in 2000, said Amendola was “very diligent in his work and a good orator in the courtroom.”

“I always found him to be above-board,” Immel said. “He had a great reputation. If you could afford him, he’s the guy you wanted.”

And those who encounter Amendola outside the courtroom described him as “generous” with his time and attention.

He has been involved in the State College Elks Lodge and the Pennsylvania State Elks Association, serving the latter as president from 2000 to 2001.

“I know he’s been very generous over the years and that he helps out in a variety of our charitable programs,” said Immel, a past exalted ruler of the State College Elks Lodge.

Paula Stanko, the office manager for the state association, said Amendola was appointed to the National Committee on Judiciary of the Elks of America, which helps lodges comply with organizational rules.

“He’s a wonderful Elk and a great guy,” she said. “He’s been helpful any time he’s been asked for something.”

George Olson, a State College resident and another former Elks state association president, said he and Amendola became very close when Olson’s son was killed in a car accident 12 years ago.

“Joe closed down his practice for four days to be with us,” he said.

Olson said he sympathized with the position Amendola finds himself in, of defending a man the public has largely already judged as guilty.

“He’s not in an easy spot,” Olson said. “But I know he’ll make sure he’ll do everything for Jerry.”

(CDT staff writer Anne Danahy contributed to this report.)

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